PROFILE: Daniel R Mueller, De Toren – Investment Banker to Wine Connoisseur
Daniel R. Mueller was not planning on purchasing a wine estate initially. In fact, his intention was quite the opposite considering the large percentage of wine farms in South Africa. As an esteemed investment banker with over 25 years’ experience in the industry, having worked in Zurich, New York, and London, Daniel is not one to take risks. Yet when the opportunity arose to purchase De Toren Private Cellar, an award-winning, boutique winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa, he grabbed the chance, recognizing a good thing when he saw it.
“Actually, I didn’t decide to invest in the wine industry! How it all happened, is that my Swiss friend Cedric Nicolas Schweri was informed of an estate for sale in South Africa. At that time, I was in the country, and when I picked Cedric up at the airport, he jumped into the car and said: ‘So, do you want to buy a wine farm together?’”
“I jokingly replied that it was a way to turn a big fortune into a small fortune! But when Cedric mentioned that he was looking at De Toren, I said: ‘OK, fair enough, that is something else. That’s small. That’s boutique and profitable. And also a brand with an exceptional reputation worldwide.’ I did an evaluation for myself, because I’m in corporate finance, and after examining the figures, I could see it looked amazing!”
Which is how, after all, Daniel came to be appointed as CEO of the Swiss company De Toren Holding AG. He is one of four major shareholders, alongside Cedric, who is the main shareholder; Cape Estate AG (a Swiss company with various interests in South Africa); and De Toren’s Managing Partner and COO, Albie Koch. Daniel facilitated the deal to purchase De Toren, which was signed in Berne, Switzerland, in March 2018, after a year of negotiations with the former owner.
Although Daniel is of Swiss descent, he has been travelling back and forth to South Africa for work and pleasure, for more than 20 years. What he appreciates most about the South African wine industry is the diversity.
“I used to spend quite a bit of time in Sonoma County and Napa Valley in California, USA and I really have to say the diversity of South Africa’s winelands speaks to me – you’ve got the Stellenbosch beat, the Swartland beat, the Robertson Valley beat, and so on. It is so diverse and so beautiful.”
“South Africa has its own heritage when it comes to buildings with the typical Cape Dutch Manor Houses. In California, you don’t really have that heritage. Of course, in France you have Chateaux. In South Africa however, the wineries cater for all people. In France the experience was entirely different, which can be expected, as the wine landscape differs from that of South Africa. The people of South Africa also have a certain warmth to them that remains unmatched,” he continues.
In August 2018, Daniel decided on a part-time relocation to South Africa, to enable his full-time, hands-on involvement in the running of the Stellenbosch estate. He explains: “De Toren is an award-winning brand with a stellar Bordeaux-style portfolio that has captivated palates around the globe. Upholding these high standards is a task I take to heart. As a team, we are committed to continuing the legacy of De Toren, expanding the vision and taking the story even further.”
De Toren specialises in luxurious, world-class Bordeaux-style wines. It was one of the first-ever South African wineries to produce Bordeaux-style wines and the very first to ever make use of a gravity-fed cellar. The estate is renowned for meticulous attention to detail when it comes to nurturing its vineyards to grow the perfect berries, and for making wine through the softest and gentlest of processes.
The result of this labour of love is a range of spectacular wines, which have, over the years, been awarded the honorary titles of South Africa’s Best Bordeaux Blend, South Africa’s Most Luxurious Wine, and The Highest Ever Rated SA Wines by the reputable USA publisher, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, to name but a few.
Daniel’s involvement was motivated not only by the good investment opportunity or De Toren’s reputation for excellence, or even his own unmitigated love of fine wine. He brings an intimate understanding of why the brand would appeal to the Swiss, and other international markets.
When asked which is his favorite De Toren wine, and why, he says: “Oh that’s an easy one! Well, everybody would probably expect me to say the limited-edition Book XVII, but it’s not! The answer is easy for me, due to my love for Merlot. Because I’m from Switzerland, I spend quite a bit of time up in the mountains in my cabin and Merlot is a warm varietal. It’s a grape for snowy, cold winter days in front of a fire. Although I can honestly say that I absolutely love every single wine from De Toren’s range, the De Toren Z was my first love so to speak!”
In recent years, De Toren has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Red Wine Producers in South Africa by the South African Wine Index and was once again nominated as New World Winery of the Year by the reputable USA publisher, Wine Enthusiast Magazine. These international accolades confirm De Toren as not only South Africa’s most highly rated Bordeaux-style wines, but indeed amongst the world’s finest red wines.
Daniel’s involvement with De Toren is testament to that glorious alchemy that occurs when a sound financial investment combines with a personal passion and the ongoing pursuit of global excellence.